When your team just doesn’t get it, you’ve got a chance to level up.
It’s a lament we’ve heard from many leaders—usually accompanied by frustrated pacing or a discouraged slouch with their head in their hands: “I don’t know what else to do. My team just doesn’t get it.”
This is one of the most frustrating leadership experiences. You’re working hard, moving fast, and passionate about what you do, but your people seem clueless. They don’t focus on the MITs (Most Important Thing). They seem lackadaisical about the details that matter most, and they don’t seem worried at all about the strategic issues keeping you up at night.
5 Reasons Your Team Just Doesn’t Get It (and what to do about it)
1. They don’t know what you know.
You earned that insight, energy, and wisdom. You know what’s likely to happen because you’ve been there. But your people might not get it because they don’t have your experience or knowledge.
Have you ever tried to describe the taste of an orange to someone who’s never eaten one? It’s challenging. It’s so fundamental that you’ll use it as a baseline for other conversations: “It tastes like an orange, only more bitter.” But someone who’s never tasted an orange won’t get it. You’ve got to start with them tasting an orange and build from there.
If you want your people to be able to think as you do, give them the same information you used to decide. Connect what they do to the strategic reasons for their work. Help them understand how their decisions affect the customers, their team, and themselves.
2. You haven’t said it so they understand it.
We are professional communicators. We speak for a living—and yet, just this week, Karin said to David, “Can you finish one of those sentences? I’m not following you.”
Later that day, David looked at Karin and said, “I understand all the words you just said, but feel like I’m missing something important.” Communication isn’t always easy—even for professionals!
You probably don’t communicate as clearly as you think you do. In fact, we can almost guarantee it.
The words in your head make sense to you, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have the same meaning for another person—if they even hear all of them. Your message winds its way through an obstacle course of competing priorities, distractions, and the filters each person has in their head.
To guarantee that people hear and receive your most critical messages, use 5×5 communication (say it five times, five different ways) and check for understanding (ask people to share what they heard, using their own words).
When you use five different ways of communicating and consistently check for understanding, you will find the communication tools that work most effectively for your people.
3. You hired the wrong person.
There are also times where someone doesn’t get it because their values don’t align with yours or they lack the skills they need to perform well. One of the most common places this happens is in demanding, stressful jobs. Desperate for bodies, recruiters undersell the challenges and what it takes to thrive in the role.
If you’re regularly hearing exit interviews like “It was way harder than I expected” or “This isn’t what I thought it would be” then it’s time to look at your hiring process.
When a role or culture is demanding, don’t shy away from it. We have both hired for teams that asked more from people than most people would want to give. Don’t hide it; lead with it. Eg: “This role isn’t for most people. It’s demanding and hard. And it will give you an opportunity to make a real difference to our customers, clients, and your career.”
Follow up with behavior-based interview questions that help you identify if your candidates have shown this character, capacity, and values they’ll need to succeed.
4. They get it—and wish you would too.
It’s quite possible that you’re the one who doesn’t get it.
Doug is a senior leader who was frustrated by his team’s performance. He’d done an incredible job training them in the methods and processes that he’d introduced and that had fueled his company’s success over the past twenty years.
The problem was that technology had changed. His customers, and the way they consumed his product, had changed. Doug had been a victim of his own success. His people understood their customer and half-heartedly met Doug’s expectations while trying to fulfill their customer’s expectations.
His team got it. But Doug had to relearn what success looked like and how to lead a team that wanted to succeed but needed to do it differently than Doug had.
5. You don’t ask for what you really want.
Another common cause when your team just doesn’t get it is that your measurements ask for something different from what you really want. People focus on getting a score and forget the game. Common examples include:
- The target has changed recently, but you haven’t updated your 5×5 communication and measurement strategy. Everyone’s still working toward the old definition of success.
- People hit their KPIs, but focus on them exclusively and ignore the strategy or experience that the numbers represent.
- Too many measurements obscure what matters most. Eg: Your customer service checklist has 54 items and people can score well on the rubric without providing a great customer experience.
- You had a hidden benchmark that you never shared. You likely took this measurement for granted, but then realized that people with different experiences or personalities needed to know it’s important.
The key to solving the measurement problem is to ask clearly for what you want. Help everyone focus on a few meaningful metrics that paint a complete picture of success. Connect those numbers to the strategy and the specific behaviors that make the numbers meaningful.
One way to know that your team gets it is frequently to check for understanding about what truly matters most. Eg “Why do we track these referrals—what does that represent? What should it mean when the numbers are good? What do we do that gets us the numbers we want to see?”
These questions are brief micro-engagements that continually reconnect your people to the strategy and behaviors behind the numbers.
It’s frustrating when your team just doesn’t get it, but it’s also a huge chance to get better and improve your leadership, processes, or communication. We’d love to hear from you: What have you learned when your team just doesn’t get it that made you a better leader?